“Changing the oil on Refridge truck? I thought ya only doing cooling unit” said a voice from behind Lynn Howard. Lynn didn’t turn around from the task he was doing. He knew that his friend Mike Smith was standing there in his oil- and grease- stained blue overhauls. Mike worked at the same mechanic shop and was also a volunteer EMT who preferred to drive the emergency vehicles over handling blood.
“If an 89-year-old man says if I don’t have time to change oil not to worry about it, that means he’s going to change it himself.”
“Who else? How a man his age can do what he does is amazing. Although lately I haven’t seen him much. His adopted daughter Alexandra drives him around now.” Lynn paused his work and thought of the young blonde girl with blue eyes. Pretty blue eyes that didn’t know he existed.
“Girl with device stuck to head?”
“She has a Cochlear implant. From what Grandpa Joe says, she had some major trauma in her life, lost her hearing, and she received the implant around the time Joe and his late wife adopted her.”
He had been in the shop, and Grandpa Joe, formally called Mister Joseph Ward Kent, had walked in with his navy blue pants and button-up shirt, with the pocket protector stuck full of pens and tire gauges. Alexandra had followed in behind, talked briefly to the boss and left. Grandpa Joe caught him watching her walk away. Lynn had been working on a muffler system on one of the farm trucks. He got Grandpa Joe a seat and coffee and went back to work while chatting with the older man. Grandpa Joe claimed that Lynn didn’t want to go out withAlexandra because she had that device on her head.
“She doesn’t know I exist. How do you expect a guy to walk up to a shy girl and say, ‘Hey, I think you’re cute. Want to date?”
The old man said he could put a good word in for him and introduce them, but Lynn objected.
“If it was meant to be, God will supply an opportunity for me to introduce myself. Now if you don’t stop badgering me, I will charge you extra for body work.”
Grandpa Joe nodded, noticed a broken tool, and went to the office to bug the shop boss about tool handling.
Mike leaned against the refrigerator truck, breaking Lynn’s thought process.
“Are you going to date her?”
“Every time she is here, I get called away by the boss or have an EMT call and I don’t get to introduce myself. Also, I don’t look the best covered in grease.” Lynn gestured at himself. He didn’t consider himself a handsome man. He was tall, around 6 foot and had the figure of a swimmer rather than a football player--wide shoulders and a tapered waist. He was almost considered scrawny until you watched him lift someone onto a gurney, then his corded muscles flexed and you knew he was all muscle.
“Don’t you have work to do? Don’t be complaining about not getting enough hours to pay the bills.” Lynn teased. Mike Smith didn’t talk much and Lynn had never heard him complain a day in his life. Mike rolled his eyes and went to the far side of the shop. Soon clanking sounds could be heard. Just then a teenage boy strolled in with a school bag over his shoulder. He waved at Lynn and entered the office. Shortly, the fourteen-year-old, smooth-faced boy stuck his head out of the office door.
“Lynn, your mother is on the phone.”
Lynn frowned and backed away from the truck. Why hadn’t she called his cell phone? As he walked towards the office, he checked and found that his phone was dead. Served him right for downloading that new social media app. Drained his battery. Frustrated at himself, he answered the office phone with a brisk
“Hello Mom, what’s wrong?”
A worried middle-age voiced answered back, “I’m sorry to call you at work. But my brother called. They have been trying to get an emergency vehicle to the Kent place for the last 45 minutes. What is going on?”
Lynn’s mother had grown up in the area of the Kent farm. In fact, her brother still farmed the homestead boarding them. When Lynn’s stepfather had moved back to be a recruiter, the family had been overjoyed. They lived in the city and it took 45 minutes to get to the farm they went to visit as often as they were able. Lynn’s uncle had remarked many times that he was glad they weren’t bouncing bases anymore. Lynn grew up an army kid. His childhood memories were filled with Korean kimchi, Japanese sushi and German Apfelstrudel.
Just then the office scanner went off and he heard the call that sent a chill of dread flowing through his veins.
“524 Fox Hollow Road. Kent residence. Unresponsive 89-year-old male.”
He looked at the 14-year -old kid leaning on the desk, who straightened, picked up Lynn’s time card and swiped him out. Then the lad picked up another card and swiped it out.
“Take Mike and get out of here.”
Lynn went to the office door. With one hand braced on the soiled door frame, he cupped his other hand to his mouth and yelled, “Hey Mike!”
All sounds in the garage stopped and the shorter man rolled out from under a vehicle.
“There’s EMT call.”
“K. Clocked me?”
“Yah, Boss already did it.”
The silent Mike nodded and started to strip out of his work clothes as he headed for the door. Lynn followed, andwith a quick wave at the smooth-faced boy in the Bratts Muffler Shop office, he was gone, his tools forgotten on the garage floor and the hood open.
The plan was to bake cornbread, place broccoli on top, smother it with a cheese sauce and then eat while daydreaming over seed and poultry catalogs. The heat from the 425-degree oven blew wisps of Lexi Mathews’ ash blonde hair as she scraped the batter into the pan. The phone rang.
“Hello, this is Lexi.”
“Come up to the main house now! It’s Grandpa Joe.”
Lexi turned off the oven, wiped her hands on her pants and dashed out the door while shoving her arms into her Carhartt jacket. Running up the driveway, her hikers crashing through the ice-covered snow, she took a short-cut from the drive and up the hill to where Grandpa Joe’s white house was situated between two old fir trees.
The cold stung her cheeks and her lungs hurt from the exertion. Lexi let herself in to find two of Grandpa Joe’s adopted daughters and one son-in -aw in a panic: Frank Fleming stood at the bottom of the stairs calling Mimi’s husband, while his wife Denise was at the top of the stairs yelling into her cell phone.
“What do you mean we can’t get an ambulance?! You’re 911 for goodness sakes!”
“Poor weather conditions, over-crowded hospitals and morons who can’t drive past the city limits. No ambulances are available!”
Frank motioned for Lexi to follow him up the stairs. Saying a quick goodbye to Mimi’s husband, he rang off and turned to the young girl with pink cheeks. Before turning to the right into Grandpa’ Joe’s bedroom, he laid a cautionary hand upon her. “Lexi, brace yourself. Our opinion is that he had a stroke.” Lexi nodded and entered the room to find the lanky figure of Grandpa Joe on the ground groaning, his grizzled head braced on his right arm. Kneeling beside him was Mimi Foster. She was the medical expert of the family, if you call working part-time at a veterinary clinic medical experience. She was holding a green plaid work shirt to his nose, blood soaking the flannel.
Lexi took an intake of breath, turned and walked out. Denise paused her conversation and turned to her.
“Lexi, go downstairs and wait for Shirley. She is going to want to know the whys and wherefores and medical terms, and, well, you get the picture. We can’t deal with this and her. Mimi will be down to explain everything once we get Dad as comfortable as we can… Wait! What do you mean the paramedics haven’t responded?” this last bit was said into her phone.
Lexi escaped down the stairs and dug her phone out of her back pocket. Checking that her battery was good, she clicked on a few sites and silently said a prayer of thanks that she splurged on a smartphone. Mimi came down the stairs, shaking and pale.
“He’s responsive but a mess. The ambulance isn’t responding. Can you tell Shirley that we’re doing as best as we can? And translate the medical terms in case she gets here when the paramedics do? Lord forbid the ambulance takes that long!”
For the next hour and a half, amongst heated arguments with the 911 service and Grandpa Joe’s groaning, Lexi crammed medical terms. Then the ambulance and Shirley Kent arrived.
From the moment Shirley Kent stepped her black upscale boot on the snow covered driveway, her hands were moving, signing her questions to Lexi. Lexi calmly answered her questions about the situation.
Mimi’s “Thank goodness you got here!” overlapped Denise's “About time. Hurry up!”
The two paramedics uncoiled their young bodies from the vehicle. The taller of the two removed a stair chair from the ambulance. Lexi paused in her signing to watch. Shirley moved to follow. Then they heard the sound of fluid leaving a body and Mimi screaming “He’s vomiting blood!” Denise hurried out of the house, looking very pale. She signed a greeting of hello to her sister Shirley, but turned to Lexi for translation.
“As they were moving him onto the chair he vomited blood all over Mimi. Mimi will go with my husband and follow the ambulance. I’ll stay and clean up.”
Shirley’s brown eyes glared.
“I will stay here and clean up. You need to go because you are Dad’s power of attorney,” her hands said. “Lexi and I will come after we get things settled here.”
Denise stared at her sister. Both brunettes with brown eyes and a stubborn streak a mile wide. At the age of 15, the two sisters decided on different paths in life. One chose to leave the deaf community and enter the hearing world through electronic means, while the other remained. Now that the years have passed, they were even more resolute in the paths they had chosen and were very likely to be offended by the littlest thing. This was why, at 20, Lexi had been hired by her family to be an ASL translator, chauffeur and part-time farm hand, while she took online courses to get a degree in communications. Grandpa Joe told her that she needed to keep the peace.
Denise nodded, turned to Lexi and murmured “I hope your mouth morphemes are correct today--I don’t think I can handle another lecture on my ignorance of our heritage right now.”
Lexi gave her a raised eyebrow combined with a thumbs-up. Denise gave a rough smile, signed something swiftly to her sister, and raced towards Mimi’s husband, who was just pulling up in his truck.
Without hearing what she was saying, Lexi knew that he was being caught up on what was happening and that he was blocking the ambulance exit. He nodded and swiftly reversed his white Dodge, sliding a little as he backed out of the way.
“Dad, don’t worry. We will get you to the hospital and figure this out.”
Mimi stopped and stared at the man streaked with blood.
The tall paramedic knelt in front of Grandpa Joe.
“Joe!” he shouted into the old man’s ear. “Joe, do you want to pray?”
The young man took Joe’s hand and prayed with him, asking for guidance and comfort in God’s will, and strength to not be fearful.
The other man administered treatment while the tall paramedic finished strapping him in. Lexi caught a glimpse of the name on the uniform. Howard…. Lynn Howard. The sisters seemed to know him and he nodded at everyone before getting into the ambulance.
And just like that the ambulance was pulling away with the white Dodge following behind. Lexi turned to Shirley. With a quick gesture Shirley turned and purposely strode towards the house. Well, as purposefully as one can on a slippery sidewalk during the first week of January in the hills of Pennsylvania.
Lexi remembered how Grandpa Joe looked, and felt her stomach recoil. This was not going to go well. Praying silently for fortitude, she followed the older woman into the house.
Shirley was a pillar of determination and nothing slowed her down.
“There will be nothing for us to do at the hospital but sit and I can’t do that. Let’s set this place to order.” Soon she had everything back to the way it was and then some. She had Lexi take down ceiling cobwebs in Grandpa’s room. Then she set about cleaning it. Lexi was assigned to scrub the bathtub when she heard Shirley stomping.
She rushed into the bedroom with yellow plastic gloves and a toothbrush for cleaning groutto see a frustrated Shirley with her hands on her hips.
The older woman turned on her in a fury:
“Do you see this? He’s never worn these! There’s underwear that Mom gave him the Christmas before she died, and that’s beenfour years ago! And look at this shirt and pants and this sweater! He sews them back together instead of wearing the items we buy!”
Lexi was amused, but hid it quickly, letting Shirley vent her frustration. She knew Shirley wasn’t really upset about Grandpa Joe’s frugal ways. He was a very independent man and refused to have help.
“Why in the world is he not sleeping downstairs in that room near the handicapped bathroom?! We spent good money on that room and bath! Why is he not using it?”
Lexi couldn’t hold back her amused smile. “He said that he would use that room when he got old.”
“I don’t find that funny.”
No, Shirley wouldn’t, not when their adoptive father was traveling in an ambulance to the hospital.
“What do you need to do before we leave? I changed his sheets and aired out the room.”
“I have to check the greenhouses and shut the chickens in for the night.”
“Why are you standing there?”
“I need to finish the bathroom.”
Shirley didn’t deem it worth replying and shook her head, gathering the clothes to be laundered along with the sheets. Lexi felt bile rise when she saw the stains on the sheets. She quickly went back to her task.
She finished the bathroom, well, almost finished the bathroom. She had a few things left to do, but Shirley physically pulled the gloves from her hands and pointed towards the door.
“I take it that you want me to feed the animals and check the greenhouses now?”
Shirley made a rude gesture with the toilet brush and Lexi fled down the stairs.
Grabbing her thick jacket, she followed her tracks down to the farmhouse where she was staying. It took a while to do the greenhouse run-through because Lexi was not only doing her chores, but Denise’s and Mimi’s as well, and then it was another 20 for the chickens.
Lexi stood in the middle of the coop and closed her eyes. This was her sanctuary.
“Dear Lord, thank you for allowing me to be a part of this family. Please help Grandpa Joe and family as they deal with this medical issue. I am scared. Amen.”
She opened her eye to a peck on her leg. Her favorite spotted hen was looking for a treat. Lexi reached into the coat pocket and pulled out some of the corn kernels she carried around.
“It is sad, but I feel closer to God in a chicken pen than when I am at church.”
Her phone vibrated and she could see the third message Shirley had sent her.
With a sigh, she finished dumping the frozen water and refilling the tubs. The three ducks promptly spilled one. “I would call you guys idiots, but I’m the one who hasn’t built you a pen with special swimming tubs. It’s on the to-do list.”
The phone buzzed again. Lexi counted her ladies and roosters. Three hens weren’t in the coop. She looked outside and found them roosting in a tree by the house.
“You three are idiots! I hope an owl doesn’t get you!”
Her pocket buzzed. She shook her head and bolted towards the house to get cleaned up. Her muscles were going to hurt tomorrow.
Shirley pulled up in Julie Stone’s black truck.
“Frank said he needs it to go to work. Denise had picked him up on her way down. We’re going to get a ride home with him tonight.” Shirley shifted the truck into gear, and pulled out, fishtailing a little. Lexi grabbed the labor handle and sent a quick prayer up to God.
“When was the last time you drove standard”?
‘Talking to someone who is driving and who only uses sign language to speak on a day where there is an ice storm. Brilliant.’ Lexi thought.
Shirley conveyed that it was about two years ago, as they fishtailed down by the one-lane bridge two miles from the farm. After a few grinds and slides she was driving like a pro.
Lexi had heard that Shirley had been one of the best silage truck drivers in the area during the summer months. She couldn’t imagine this urban woman, head math teacher at Harrisburg Academy for ASL students, doing anything farm-related. Who wore three-inch heels in winter?!